In my technical consulting days I was appointed to an assignment with a large engineering company. Their problem was that they manufactured straddle carriers for stacking dockside containers and they were rather concerned that they kept failing resulting in some flat dock workers.
In the approved manner I did all the static and dynamic loading checks and came to the conclusion that the suspension chains were under-engineered and hence kept failing especially under dynamic loading.
To make sure I took my friend George to have a look at a straddle carrier in action locally. George, balding, hunched as usual in his gabardine raincoat and inevitably smoking his pipe took a look, shook his head, took another look and said:
“You're right Ivan, it doesn't look right to me".
That was enough for me. While the calculations had given me the answer, the real answer came from a lifetime of experience and knowledge. This was true experience and George was able to give an opinion simply by drawing on that experience and knowing deep down that something just wasn't right.
On another occasion I was working with some executives who had been made redundant during an earlier recession and one of them claimed to be an accountant. It soon transpired that he was floundering so I dug a little into his background.
He had qualified all right and then had been made head of Purchase Ledger department in a large company. His experience over 25 years was actually one year's experience replicated 25 times.
Kenneth and Will Hopper, in their brilliant book The Puritan Gift, talk about "domain knowledge", that vital component that can only be developed in a company that typically promotes from within and, among other criteria, treats promotion as a reward for great performance. The "science" of management has to be learned and the best place to learn it is as one moves up through the levels of the business.
Under certain circumstances it is inevitable that a vacancy can only be filled from outside the business for example in the case of a new function where there is no experience internally or when there is no-one in the organisation ready for promotion.
Nevertheless taking what may seem to be a risk and promoting someone who may still be short of some experience can often result in a surprising and happy outcome.
The key is that if they have the right attitude and importantly that domain knowledge that says they know how the business works, its culture and how they do things, then it can be surprisingly successful.
In my early apprentice days in the aircraft industry we had a Chief Designer whose constant mantra was:
"If it looks right, it'll fly!"
Whether it is aircraft or people, that is a classic example of confident "domain knowledge”.
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